Chapter 1.2. ATA TEGI — The Clan

Qazaqs have described themselves as QYRYQ RÝLY QAZAQ [the forty clan having Qazaqs], KIIZ TUYRLYQTY, “ALASH” URANDY [the yurt living, with “Alash” as the battle cry], and KEREGEMIZ — AǴASH, URANYMYZ — “ALASH” [the frame of our yurt is wood, and our battle cry is “Alash”].

ALASH is the alternative endonym of the Qazaqs. Following the tradition of personification of history, Qazaqs believed that ALASH KHAN was a real person, a forefather of all Turkic peoples, whose three sons — AQARYS, JANARYS and BEKARYS — are the founding fathers of the three Qazaq juzes. (A juz is a territorial and tribal division in Qazaqstan.)

The time when Alash khan ruled the Qazaqs is considered the golden age in the memory of the people: ALASH BOLǴANDA [when Alash was in power], ALA TAI AT BOLǴANDA, TAŃBASYZ TAI, ENSIZ QOI BOLǴANDA [and a piebald foal was a horse, and the foals were not branded, the sheep were not marked], ASTYŃ ASTAUY — ALTYNNAN, ITTIŃ ITAYAǴY — KÚMISTEN BOLǴANDA [dishes for meat were made of gold, and dogs’ bowls were made of silver], ALASH BÁRIMIZGE HAN BOLǴANDA [when Alash was our khan], BIZ KIM BOLMADYQ? [who weren’t we?].

This is what the clan structure of Qazaqs looks like:

A diagram of the three Qazaq juzes and the clans that comprise them.
Diagram of the three Qazaq juzes and an additional group that is outside the juz system. Screenshot from https://tumalas.kz/shejire-view/.

ULY JUZ [the Senior Juz] consists of 13 clans, ORTA JUZ [the Middle Juz] of 6 clans, and KISHI JUZ [the Junion Juz] consists of 3 TAIPA [tribes], which together are made up of 25 clans.

Besides these, there are several clans that are outside the juz system. The largest among them are the TÓRE — descendants of Genghis Khan, and the QOJA — descendants of Arab missionaries, who are more a social class than a clan. Interesting fact: the QOJA are the only group who prohibit marriage with outsiders. There are also the TÓLENGIT — descendants of mercenaries and captive warriors, and QURAMA — people of other ethnic origins who have assimilated into the Qazaq ethnicity.

A common saying about the juzes is:

ULY JÚZDIŃ BALASYN QAUǴA BERIP MALǴA QOI,

[Give a tub to the offspring of the Senior Juz and assign them to herd cattle]

ORTA JÚZDIŃ BALASYN QALAM BERIP DAUǴA QOI,

[Give a pen to the offspring of the Middle Juz and assign them to a court case]

KISHI JÚZDIŃ BALASYN NAIZA BERIP JAUǴA QOI.

[Give a spear to the offspring of the Junior Juz and send them into battle].

Researchers have not aligned either regarding the time that the Juz system came about or on its ideological and practical purpose. One could presume that the ancient tribes making up the Qazaq people were split into three juzes or three military commands by a genius general. Through centuries, every Qazaq has been carefully preserving information about their assignment to a specific command/JÚZ, army/TAIPA, division/RÝ, regiment/ATA, battalion/SÚIEK. Their relatives are their company, platoon, and squad, and if one does something bad, they will always answer to a platoon commander or officer in the form of their older relatives.

Qazaqs are genetically programmed to preserve their clan structure. Even the biggest city-slicker will know their answer to RÝYŃ KIM? [what is your clan?] They may not know their native language, they may not even understand the question if its phrased in the traditional form, QAI ATANYŃ BALASYSYŃ? [which ancestor’s descendant are you?], they may not even be a full-blooded Qazaq, but, after realizing what’s being asked from them, they will immediately report something along the lines of “I am George, the son of Aqtaı, from the QYPSHAQ clan.”

IG post by meme account saying: “In Kazakhstan we don’t say “Who is he?”, we say “Rýy kim?”, and I think that’s beautiful.”
IG post by meme account saying: “In Kazakhstan we don’t say “Who is he?”, we say “Rýy kim?”, and I think that’s beautiful.”
Post by popular Qazaq meme account: https://www.instagram.com/p/CHAUggNnAhz/

An important point is the fact that the history of Qazaqs has not seen significant or bloody inter-clan conflict. We hope that this genetically programmed structuring, which has not caused division in the past, will continue to be a basis for strength and unity of our nation into the future. We have confidence in this also because the clans are inter-connected through relational ties, since Qazaqs have historically inter-married with other clans due to the ban on marrying a relative within the last seven generations — JETI ATADAN BERI QYZ ALYSPAŃDAR. Even at burials, those who wash the body and lower it into the grave — SÚIEKKE KIRGEN ADAMDAR — are selected based on their clan affiliation: it is preferable that all neighboring and related clans are represented.

Qazaq clans had all the attributes of military divisions, such as a uniform, banner, seal and battle cry, but they have never fought each other. There were minor conflicts over pastureland and because of barymta (raids to seize wealth) but resulting injuries or even a death have never triggered armed confrontation. Things were always resolved through negotiation, in verbal grapples between biis (judges) and aityses between aqyns (freestyle battles between dombyra players/singers).

Arguments about the seniority, merit, and heroes of one clan or another, protecting your fellow clanspeople and sidelining the outsiders are playful rather than serious. It’s the Qazaq version of banter.

Chapter 15 of this book lists common sayings used to tease different clans, reviewing which can be a fun way to expand your vocabulary.

Hi, I’m Aselle, and I love languages.